"A favor, if you will," the headmistress said with a warm smile. Varin furrowed his brow, shifting uncomfortably in his seat as he nodded.
Somehow, Varin had ended up in Leolina's office with a cup of tea in his hand and an itching desire to leave. She made him uncomfortable, with those piercing golden eyes.
And to think the firstborn had that same eye color, Varin reminded himself. Eerie.
"What is it you need, headmistress?" Varin asked. He would be a fool to reject a favor from Leolina—although she was kind and seemingly omniscient, she was known to lack mercy. He would never, ever want to be on the edge of her sword.
"There is an antiquated sword up in the western wing," Leolina started while twiddling a quill pen in her hand, "I am asking you to deliver it for me."
"A messenger boy, am I?"
Leolina laughed. "Perhaps, for today, but it is expected in a smaller town at the outskirts of Traburg. The City of Javunger."
Javunger was a small farmers town, ridden with crime and cult worshipping heretics. It was practically torn to shreds, too, after a fire destroyed most of the houses and farmland. All that remained were a few stretches of cornfields and an old, decrepit tavern. It was practically worse than the wastelands that stretched beyond the cursed Whispering Woods, but he had to follow his intuition. Going against Leolina would surely be far more dangerous than making an outing to Javunger.
Leolina cleared her throat and nodded, setting the quill in its holder before steepling her fingers together. "A friend, Varin—an old one at that. The sword belonged to him long ago and I figured it was finally time to return it. I will give you information on what their whereabouts is, but that was all I needed from you."
Varin cleared his throat, her stare on his intense and unwavering. Leolina was magnificent, truly, with her angular cheekbones and pointed ears. Those radiant golden eyes bestowed wisdom onto each thing it studied—wisdom that was followed by deceit and trickery.
Yes, Leolina was kind. Yes, Leolina was wise. But, most of all, she was undoubtedly, effortlessly and beautifully wicked. Varin had seen the way she looked over her scholars, unimpressed and lips always in a scowl. Even with Varin who she had told was one of her favorite scholars at this academy had been a recipient of this disproving glare more than he would like to count. Throughout the days, though, he witnessed a shift in her posture.
She stood taller than before—something he didn't think was possible—and even smiled in response to people greeting her. Leolina was mystical and intimidating, no doubt, but she was no stranger to the stereotypes of her species. Elves of the purest bloodlines held themselves to a higher standard, one that naturally made them scoff and stick their noses up at those around them. Even in her kindest moments, she had this prejudice of other species and came across as condescending.
Varin felt the curious tickle urge him to figure out what caused this change, and perhaps he would figure this out. Unfortunately, it would have to wait until he finished playing messenger boy, it seemed.
"And, she said, 'Thad, you cannot mosey around this tavern and dance on the bar stools! It is bad for business!'"
"And, pray tell, did you stop?" Varin asked, pulling back on the bowstring and letting the arrow soar through the air—an hapless miss at the end of its journey.
Varin looked at the satyr who grinned widely at him, shaking his head. "Of course I did... not!"
"Ah, how could I have forgotten," Varin said and reloaded an arrow, "you do not understand the idea of listening."
"The way I see it, Varin, is that rules set by matrons—and the matrons' matron are so old that they are too miserable to understand the idea of fun, and as such, it is my job to—"
"Ruin the livelihood of the tavern they run?"
"—restore their lives with the joy they've been missing."
Varin chuckled and pulled the bowstring back once more, holding his breath before letting it soar through the air once more. Another miss.
"Your aim is as sour as your attitude today, Varin, what is the matter?"
He sighed. "I am a messenger boy."
Thaddius clapped his hands as he laughed, "That is glorious! Messenger for what, exactly? Running around to spread your endless sulking—I mean, joy?"
"If only it were that easy," Varin said and decided it was three times a charm. He placed the arrow on the bow and pulled it back. "Leolina has called for me to deliver something to a friend."
Thaddius hummed. "That is less glorious. What friend?"
Varin pressed his lips together as he let the arrow fly through the sky. "I do not know."
"Alright... and where are you going?"
"I do not know. Somewhere in Javunger."
"How brilliant," Thaddius said and sucked in a breath, shaking his head, "a dead messenger boy by the end of that trip. What did you do to deserve that fate?"
"Not sure," Varin said and looked to his friend, smiling wide, "but I guess being one of the headmistress's favorite scholars is not doing me any favors."
Thaddius held his hands up in the air dramatically, shrugging his shoulders. "That title has never been mine, that was always reserved for both you and Aiora."
Varin nodded and set the bow down, leaning it against a wooden stump. Aiora and Varin started their friendship through mutual respect—which somehow only existed through a sense of loathing hatred, too. They came to the academy around the same time, both equally as lost and concerned about their fate. A beautiful disaster, really, one that blossomed into a friendship like no other. That said, Aiora still knew how to drive Varin up a wall with anger if she put her head to it. He knew that would never change.
"With a mug like yours, Thad, I don't know how you were not her favorite."
"I think I know," a warm voice cooed. "It's called being an ass."
Turning on his heel, he watched Aiora walk closer and waved her hand. She wore a simple blue dress, a white bow wrapped loosely around her waist. Her light hair was pulled into a braid, pointy ears peeking through the strands. Varin bowed mockingly towards her.
"Mistress Aiora, how can we be of service?"
"Service?" Aiora chuckled. "Service me by making sure to never bow at my feet again."
"Easier said than done," Varin sighed.
She hummed and turned to look at Thaddius. "Thad, I have a favor to ask of you."
"Everybody is seeking charity today," Varin said beneath his breath. He ignored the questioning glare Aiora shot towards him, a smirk crawling onto his lips subtly.
"I could never say no to you," Thaddius said and crossed his arms over his chest. "What is it, though? Some things just aren't worth saying yes to, after all."
Varin's ears perked up when Aiora laughed, looking over at her to watch as she smoothed the skirt of her dress. A nervous habit.
She was distracted, but that was no surprise. That girl had a million things on her mind at any given second, it was pure chaos being around her. That said, it brought a level of balance back to his life. Varin, unfortunately, was a bit stubborn and anxious. Having somebody so light-hearted and level headed around truly helped ease his nerves, even at the worst moments. Having a comedic friend like Thaddius was the icing on top of the cake.
"I need you to come with me to town tomorrow."
He raised a brow, wondering why she asked Thaddius specifically. Aiora always bothered Varin to go run errands with her. He couldn't say he was complaining all that much, but it was a sudden change in behavior.
"Sounds simple enough."
"There are a few tricks up my sleeve, I assure you," Aiora joked. "But in all seriousness, I need you to accompany me as a bodyguard."
"What have you gotten yourself into?" Varin chimed in with furrowed eyebrows.
"Nothing, Varin, you don't need to worry."
Varin looked at Thaddius who looked surprised at her sudden hostility. Typically, Aiora and Varin were two peas in a pod. They conversed with each other, they played jokes on one another, and they made sure they were both safe. It was this mutual desire to make sure they never returned home in the same state they left—broken, hopeless, and weak.
And, here she was, asking a satyr whose ultimate defensive tactic was a good joke? Varin found it difficult to conceal his bewilderment.
Thaddius cleared his throat, nodding his head. "Of course, Aiora. How could I say no?"
Varin rummaged through some of the crates in the attic of the western wing, dust particles flying through the air as he moved things out of their place. The headmistress decided it was best he be the one to find the sword, and travel to Javunger by his own wits, and find this mysterious long-lost friend by himself. Nothing was worse than sneezing every few minutes due to an overdose of dust, but knowing he would have to travel to the slums of Traburg immediately after? It was his worst nightmare.
Varin hummed to himself, walking over to a stack of paintings that were covered with tarps. Curiosity overcoming him, he began to remove the tarps to reveal the portraits. There were a few more depictions of Leolina of varying ages, even posing alongside a feline in one of them, but each one more boring than the last.
Sighing, he pushed aside a crate that was against the wall. In it was a stack of letters with a wax stamp and key. Varin took the key between his fingers and traced the silver linings that created the design of a wave. Intricate and beautiful, Varin wondered what it opened.
He grabbed the letters, too, rubbing the wax seal that kept it closed. He wondered why the headmistress would keep unopened letters here. With such an extravagant seal, he doubted it was a normal letter. If he were any less disciplined, he would have opened it then and there.
Fortunately, he preferred to keep his head attached to his own spine as opposed to the spine of a spear made of bone.
Flipping it over, he read the cursive lettering that revealed the initials of who wrote it: A.E. Humming, he set the papers back into the crate and rested the key on top of it before hesitating and closing it. He doubted anybody would notice that key was missing if he took it, but it was not a risk he was willing to take. Not right now, at least.
Closing the lid, he stood and bumped his shoulder into one of the wall decorations covered with a tarp. The sharp border poked him, catching him by surprise as he cursed. He reached up to rub the curve of his neck, pulling his fingers away to reveal a droplet of blood.
Turning to the object he bumped into, he removed the material that protected it and saw himself staring back at him. On the bottom left-hand corner was a droplet of his blood smeared against a golden leaf.
Stupid, bloody border, he said to himself. He wiped the blood away and looked back in the antiquated mirror, fixing a strand of his dark hair that was tossed into the wrong place. What shocked him was when he dropped his hand, his reflection didn't.
It smiled at him.
He jumped out of his skin, backing away quickly, and fell into an old wooden table. Despite his desperate attempt to distance himself from the reflection, he watched himself standstill—staring at him with this daunting smile and dead eyes.
It was as clear as day but as disorienting as ever. Varin took a moment to calm his breathing, taking a few steps closer to the mirror and reached his finger up to touch it. His reflection did the same, even lifting an eyebrow in the process.
When his finger came in contact with the mirror, it was solid. His reflection still followed his movements, but his mouth began to move. It was difficult to read, but it was telling him to turn. Deciding to trust the creepier reflection of himself, he turned and looked to the opposite side of the room. There, laying in all its glory, was an old, rusty sword barely covered by a blanket atop a table. Letting out a breathy chuckle, he turned and looked back into the mirror, his reflection still following his movements.
Varin ran to that sword, grabbed hold of it by the handle, and flew down the stairwell. He refused to stay in the same room as that creepy mirror any longer.